Monumental Losses


They whisper it about, there is a penny

Placed on the highest pinnacle at Paarl

An offering, or mockery, to God

Atop this tribute reversing Babel, man

Raised a tower to celebrate synthesis

Of language,  imagined understanding.


The only nation to plan, build a language

raise a tower to its greatness

Lies silenced now in disarray, disrepute, doubt. 

It is erased, effaced, the language, first

The pride; now the right to have it, be it, live it.


The Nobel winners write of disgrace, angst, lost direction, 

 Gloom in the shadows of the fading light, creeping night.

Their characters cared only for the struggle

their fly leafs care how they, too

haven’t moved along, live in South Africa, 


We just have to accept it, says Celeste, 

Daughter of a sheep farm lost on the Karoo,

People imagine we were lords of our universe

I went to school with them,  kids richer than us.

My sister too young to know anything

Of the past,  we are marked by it––

Everything about us marked by it.

The sins of the fathers visited on the children:

Condemned by guilt for their offenses,

Despised by power for their appeasement.


My people can talk about anything, 

Except the politics of what is and was.

Yet, here we are still . . .

Go to the farms, the boerer, 

To the hidden unwalled towns among the koppies, the kloofs

where Pere attends his sheep, Oomah her kitchen

Sitting the evening in the shade

On the verandah, telling our stories, our stories.


Charles with his starkly English name

notes they are suppressing the tongue, 

his tongue, as language of the mind 

taking away our academies; we will simply build 

our own without their money, thanks;

imagining an insurgent act on such audacious scale

would go unnoticed, unanswered, unchallenged.


Marnus, pushing trackless to a cheetah kill, declares––

In the bush it's survival of the fittest, 

it's all about survival. 

And we are surviving.

Though they take away our farms, 

give them to guys who don't understand 

farming, let it go to waste.

And murder us, my grandpere

Yaah, 4000 of us, farmers dead in 14 years, 

Yet we are speaking, speaking our stories, our stories,

speaking ourselves, to ourselves. 

Sure, a minority, but we are our history.


The great new law provided words of minor hope

Useful as a mattress to a drowning man

Something to cling to as it sinks away. 


Oh, Anita, Anita, how much did you surrender, 

hide behind that Mona Lisa smile on adoption day?

The face of your nation, making the best of its losses

What have you given, lost, for the cause of survival?

What price was paid for your false hopes? 


At the cheetah kill, no one asks, thinks 

of the killed, destroyed and wasted life.

We have time and attention only

for the victor, satiated on her triumph. 

The kill is nameless, stripped of identity, effaced, 

Luring the jackals.

 © Philip Knight 2018